Writing letters is just like talking on paper. The only thing is, you can't save conversations, but with letters, you can. You can preserve them on paper, reading them over and over again. In this issue of The Goldfinch, your students learn about the role of history in letter writing. Before phones, fax machines, and e-mail, people relied on letter writing to keep in touch with friends and family. Through the years, many have used letter writing for everything from marriage proposal to contacting President Roosevelt during the Great Depression. Letters surviving across time give voices to people whose lives might otherwise be lost to history.
Letter writing was also popular during wartime. In "History in a Shoebox," a soldier writes to his sister, describing the conditions during the Civil War. He writes about illness, poor living conditions, and inadequate nutrition in the Civil War camps. A second feature, entitled "Wartime Letter Writing," details correspondence between a soldier who sent over to India and his wife, back home in Iowa. His letters, like all others written by U.S. soldiers, were censored. He was forbidden to write news of the war, discuss his work, or disclose his location. Can you imagine what it would be like if someone censored every letter you wrote?
As you already know, the diary of Anne Frank is probably the most famous piece of writing to come out of WWII. What you may not know is that in the autumn of 1939, before the Nazis came to power, Juanita Wagner, a sixth grader at Danville Elementary School, chose a girl from the Netherlands to be her pen pal. Her name was Anne Frank. In an article about the Frank family, we tell you about the letter that Anne wrote to Juanita just three weeks after Germany invaded Denmark, and about the letter Juanita's sister received from Otto Frank, Anne's father, telling of their experiences of hiding and of Anne's death in a concentration camp.
What would it be like to have eleven pen pals for more than fifty years? You'll find out in "Letters of the T.P.C." Twelve young women who attended Iowa State College (now Iowa State University) began a round robin in 1922, shortly after the women left college in Ames, Iowa. The letters traveled from one friend to another in a continuous circle. Each recipient in turn read the letters, added a new one of her own, then mailed the bundle of letters on to the next pen pal. This writing experience lasted until 1976, 54 years after the women attended college together!
A collection of letters exchanged between Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, is housed in the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library in West Branch. Rose wrote a biography of Herbert Hoover in 1920. After her death, the library wanted her papers because of her connection to the Iowa-bom president. When the archivist went to collect the materials, he also was able to collect letters between her and her famous mother.
Time may have yellowed the pages Laura penned to Rose, but it has also preserved the past in an Iowa archive.
In this issue of The Goldfinch, devoted to the history and practice of letter writing, we've explored some important themes you and your students will enjoy. Other than wartime letter writing, we also talk about the use of stagecoaches in mail delivery, discuss people past and present who have had pen pals, show you how to make a quill pen. And remember, if you have any questions or comments about this issue or our Teachers' Guide, there's only one thing you need to do. Write to us!
Iowa Letters Write History: The advantages of letter writing over the years.
History in a Shoebox: Letters between a Civil War soldier and his sister detailing war life.
Postmarked from Amsterdam: Tells the story of letters exchanged between Anne Frank and a young girl in Iowa during WWII.
Wartime Letter Writing Censored: Tells about the role of censorship in letter writing between a soldier and his wife during WWII.
Letters of the T.P.C.: Details a letter writing round robin between a group of women for over 50 years.
Ready to Write?: Tips for starting your own round robin.
The Courier's Appointed Rounds: Explains the early days of mail service using stagecoach delivery and Rural Free Delivery (RFD).
Make a Quill Pen: Shows you the process of making a quill pen.
Laura and Rose: Letters Preserved in Iowa Archive: An account of an exchange of letters between "Little House" author, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane.
History Mystery: History detective Sarah Frese talks about visiting the Hoover Library and asking questions about Hoover's papers and the "Little House" series.
History Makers: Explains how fourth-grade students at West Library Middle school made friends at The University of Iowa through letter writing (pen pals).
Fiction: Logan's Letters: Story of Logan's journey to America and the letters he writes to his friend back in Ireland.
Dear Diary: Tells about a young girl's interest in letter writing and her father's job as a mail carrier.
Griffith Buck's Letter: Explains how a pen pal helped an Iowan learn about roses.